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The Enigma of Arrival | Summary and Analysis


The Enigma of Arrival | Summary and Analysis

V. S. Naipaul himself is an inheritor of colonial legacy. His grandfather was brought to Trinidad in the eighteenth century as an indenture labourer to work in a sugar plantation. It was not a dignified job to do but he was allured by the better life he could have in the New World than the wretchedness of poverty in India. Seeprasad Naipaul, the writer’s father and a second-generation immigrant, had big ambitions to be a writer, which he could not fulfill, and, thus, he transplanted his unfulfilled aspirations on his sons, V. S. Naipaul and Siva Naipaul. Both brothers’ writings can be seen as testimonials of the horrendous experiences of cultural cringe that becomes a part of life for second and third generation migrants who undergo the difficult process of creolization. For V. S. Naipaul his ancestors’ experiences become important themes in his writing. He is fully aware of the colonial history of Trinidad and he cannot write being oblivious the shipwrecked condition of his forefathers who had arrived to the unknown land leaving their cultural identity far behind in India. Naipaul’s exercise of writing and the works itself can be seen as an attempt to recreate identity and as a process of recuperation. His writing is constantly informed by the colonial history that becomes recurrent theme throughout.

The novel The Enigma of Arrival deals with protagonist-narrator’s diasporic experience and its consequences. The narrator is an Indian by descent, a Trinidian by birth and a Briton by Citizenship. He has experienced these three societies and he has bitter feelings for them all. For him, India is unwashed, Trinidad is unlearned and England is intellectually and culturally bankrupt.Rosa’s father Lionel Burger, as both physician and disciplined revolutionary who lies in prison. Rosa’s family seems to have more than enough money. There are black servants and even an informally adopted black child who is being reared in the family as a son. Party members, whether white, black or coloured are continually being assaulted together at the large family which creates the problem in the apartheid regime. She lives in a state of existential loneliness. She is well aware of the emotional neglect where she has suffered in her life but with no way to balance anyone for it. She is without a passport in a nation that makes her worthless. She keeps long affair with the student Conrad seems promising but later on she withdraws, thinking it “incestuous”. She has emotional entrapment by the memory of her father and her inability to believe that she has a truly personal future or destiny.

He narrates colonization process as, “discovery, the New world, the dispeopling of the discovered islands; slavery, the creation of the plantation colony; the coming of the idea of revolution; the chaos after revolutions in societies so created” (110). It shows the motto of colonization that is search of “New World”. In this process the native people have to suffer or be dislocated. Moreover it depicts the condition of slavery perpetrated by colonizer for plantation and for any things. At the end, the chaos in the society is sure because of revolution.The protagonist, Rosa Burger, true witnesses her spiritual betrayal of her father in fact. She obtains a passport by appealing directly to an influential apartheid loyalist, Brand Vermeulen. Then she visits her father’s first wife and enjoys in Nice a period of cathartic-if “decadent” freedom. She obtains from this woman Katya Bagnelli a degree of emotional support that she failed to get from her mother. She becomes a lover of a professor from Paris Bernard Chablier. Chablier invites her to be a mistress for ever but she refuses. She unexpectedly sees the African Baasie, her childhood; “little brother” who is a student in France. She refuses to be utopian in her expectations as in her treatment of Baasie.

Naipaul has always found to position himself as a lone, stateless observer, devoid of ideology of affiliation, a truth-teller without illusion. He is known for his penetrating analysis of alienation. Writing with increasing irony and pessimism, he often details the difficulties the Third World is facing. His writings express the ambivalence of the exile and the problem of an outsider, a feature of his own experience as an Indian in the West Indies, a West Indian in England and a wandering intellectual in a postcolonial world. He has been building upon his experience of colonial and post-imperial trauma in his native island and looking for his home and social construction in all the sites of dying colonialism and fallen imperialisms in the world.

The people from the ex-colonial states feel the loss of their identity. Either they have no connectedness to their tradition or they are isolated in the foreign land. The protagonist narrator of the novel The Enigma of Arrival feels such disconnectedness with his past and isolated in the foreign land. When he is in England he narrates about his lost tradition, culture, land and language. The narrator’s expressions are the expressions of Naipaul himself. Born in West Indian islands but of Indian origin, Naipaul himself feels isolated, alienated and homeless. In this autobiographical novel The Enigma of Arrival he vividly depicts the same experience. This novel is a profound and richly observed novel of colonial and post-colonial society of Trinidad, India and England. The narrator in the novel wished to make his identity in the colonizer’s lane in which he is never successful. He becomes an outsider everywhere.

Since Naipaul says that he belongs nowhere, this ‘pseudo-global identity’ can be best regarded as his nostalgia for his root-culture. Therefore, a home can ultimately never be more than the books he writes; lest his entire corpus gets a problem of unity. Naipaul can culturally be understood as a homeless citizen of the world, who has forever been displaced from his origin. This rhetoric of displacement finds a powerful expression in his books, and the present study exposes Naipaul’s preoccupation in writing. In an interview with Rahul Singh, Naipaul strongly determines that he is not an English, nor a Trinidadian, nor an Indian but he is his own man. It is his philosophy of life that in the changing world he belongs to many places, and there are many things that go to make his ideas of who he is. For this reason, he is considered a voice of dire times who has a strong sense of displacement. In other words, this clearly shows his homelessness.In Burger’s Daughter, Rosa Burger wants to locate her identity in the contemporary apartheid policy in South Africa. She becomes orphan after her parents’ death. In this situation she feels loneliness remaining alone in the family. She faces problem creating relationship with others. She even faces psychological, political, social problems to live in her own country being a daughter of privileged white family. Rosa’s father Lionel Burger is both physician and disciplined revolutionary who involves in the antiapartheid movement so he victimizes even being the white person. Later on Rosa tries to fulfill her father commitment to go against apartheid policy and she returns to Africa from France and joins into the destiny but she is arrested by white racial government and put in Pretoria prison. It shows she is in ambivalent position and she herself as a white burden as well as psychological self victimization. The apartheid policy turns against the whites, though protagonist Rosa Burger is a daughter of a privileged white family.

Another important point is that the question of identity as the result of ruinous effects of colonization haunts both Naipaul’s work and life. His work, therefore, is a creative mirror image upon a devastating lack of historical preparation upon the anguish of whole countries and peoples unable to cope with the condition of life. So, it can be concluded as Mukherjee does, that ‘a house’ for Mr. Naipaul is needed and that he seeks in his writings.

The next important point is that culture is a defining principle of people. Because of the migration, mass media and other elements most notably globalization, cultural shapes have been fading up. People are facing the problem of cultural identity and belonging, which give their identity. Cultural values have been transferred to other cultural groups and the cultural loss appears to be a dominant problem among people.

People have been alienated and dislocated, and that sense always haunts them. When Naipaul became aware of himself and his place in the world around him, he has never thought of his future except being a diasporic writer. So he has expressed his cultural crisis in his writing. In the last chapter of the novel The Enigma of Arrival when the narrator engages his sister’s funeral ceremony, he feels very much pity because of fading rituals of his original culture. The dress worn by Sati’s son, Pundit’s way of performance, the processes followed in that ceremony all were quite mocking. The narrator could just feel alienated from his original culture and he becomes an acute observer of his blurred culture.

Identity arises from our ‘belongingness’ of distinctive ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious and above all national cultures. When we find the above stated belongings, all or some of them lacking in us, we are in the same peril from where Naipaul writes his novels. Moreover the globalization and fundamentalism have endangered the traditional concept of cultural identities.

We see Naipaulian characters an actual or aspiring writer for whom writing is a central act of self-defining. So here comes the point that all of Naipaul’s novels are closely related to each other. Naipaul really wants to write his history as we see his mouthpiece narrator in the autobiographical novel The Enigma of Arrival. The narrator of the novel and his family members are entangled and confused by their cultural history. Naipaul emphasizes on the ‘search for truth’ in writing and by that he tries to show a loss. And with the passing of the each decade, Naipaul has invested more and more of his energy in travel writing, and thereby reveals what he says in his writing that matches with the reality. The narrator in the novel The Enigma of Arrival finds himself in a new land and new culture, that gives him a sense of loss. He seeks for belonging but he does not find it. Nor does he succeed in establishing his meaning of having been there. So, it appeared to him as an unsolvable problem created by culture, colonization and post colonization, diasporic experience and hybridized culture.

In this novel Naipaul shows how the individuals are trapped by the foreign culture. When the funeral ceremony of Sati is going on, the narrator depicts the losing faith and dying rituals of his original culture. Culture provides a home for people; it binds people and exposes the unity. But when we are confronted to a new culture, then we realize our identity. We become aware of our ‘belonging’ and ‘root’ as the characters in the book exhibit. It is very hard to the people to get on with other cultures. So, whatever they do, culture of their root, the nostalgia of the past and the present condition of alienation always find expression in their activities including their writing as it has been evident in The Enigma of Arrival.

‘Who are we?’ ‘Where do we belong?’ ‘Who is not us?’ etc. are the questions the characters often ask. These are the questions related to culture and civilization. The moment people start questioning and answering them, they find the problem – the problem of belonging. If they are in a new geography, among the people to whom they do not belong, and culture of which they are unknown, they feel themselves ‘alienated’ and ‘dislocated’. This is the problem of cultural identity. In this process of identifying themselves they get confused. They become lonely among many people as the narrator feels in the new land when he migrates from his birthplace Trinidad to England.

Naipaul is seeking a home in his writing, which has become a part of his life. His characters are in the process of creating a home, and they try to establish a coherent belonging to their root. His writings express the ambivalence of the exile and the problem of an outsider, a feature of his own experience as an Indian in the West Indies, a West Indian in England and nomadic intellectual in postcolonial world. So in this novel he has written his history as one of his autobiographical novels. His displaced characters are not only obsessed with their geography and people but also with their culture. They have been the eviction of the alien culture, always trying to define themselves but hopelessness finding the way out of that grim reality. As a result, they are seeking their cultural identity in the world of cultural hybridity. And the endless search for identity further gives them a sense of ‘rootlessness’, ‘dislocation’, ‘alienation’, ‘pessimism’ and above all ‘homelessness’. Thus the autobiographical novel The Enigma of Arrival shows homelessness of the narrator i.e. of the writer, who is haunted by colonialism and wanders in search of his home for identity in the post-colonial world.


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